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Harvard Study Says Arab Innovators are Making America Great Again

From game-changing entrepreneurs like Rana El Kaliouby, to Google's Mo Gawdat, the Harvard Business Review says that Arab scientists and inventors are driving some of the US' most innovative ventures.

Staff Writer

Harvard Study Says Arab Innovators are Making America Great Again

They’re building robots. Designing software. Starting companies. Filing patents. But who are these people? They’re Arab inventors it seems, and they’re playing a “major role” in US innovation, says the Harvard Business Review.

Noting that little work had previously been done to showcase the impact of Arab immigrants and their descendants in business and science, and amid a context of spiking institutionalised racism, the academic powerhouse set off to investigate. A small team searched the international patent database for applications filed by inventors with Arabic first names who resided in the US, and found that Arab inventors represented a disproportionately large percentage of science and tech patents filed in the U.S. between 2009 and 2013, with a growth rate of 62% over 10 years.

“It turns out that the US is a major home for Arab inventors,” the study says. “In the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, there were 8,786 US patent applications in our data set that had at least one Arab inventor. Of the total US patent applications, 3.4 percent had at least one Arab inventor.”

California, one of the major tech hubs of the United States, had more patent authors from Arab states than from any other single country outside the US. The same search was performed for various countries in Europe, and found that the contributions of Arab inventors were more proportionate to the size of the Arab community in the general population.

The study mentions some of the region’s most celebrated entrepreneurs, such as Egyptian Rana El Kaliouby, founder of Affectiva; Amr Awadallah, co-founder of Cloudera; Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of LittleBits; Sharif El Badawi of TechWadi; Mo Gawdat of Google; and Oussama Khatib, director of the Stanford Robotics Lab.

Although the study clarifies that Muslim and Arab identities are not mutually dependent, since the Trump administration’s recent travel and immigration policies make no such distinction, the Harvard Business Review did not consider it necessary to determine the religious affiliations of the patent registrants, referring to them simply as “Arab inventors”.

The authors noted that more highly skilled Arab professionals arrive on non-skilled visas than any other ethnic group. Their sizable contributions to US innovation particularly shine in major tech companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft. But due to the recent travel ban, these contributions could be put to a halt.

Several tech entrepreneurs of Egyptian origin have already voiced their concern about how the new policies will affect them. After all, the numbers suggest that America’s greatness is in part due to the contributions of its immigrants.

For the full details on the Harvard Business Review’s findings, click here.

Main Photo: Egyptian entrepreneur Rana El Kaliouby during a TEDx presentation in 2015.